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By: Jason Smith

1. Choosing a bus is overwhelming. Where do I begin?
Choosing a bus can certainly be overwhelming. To start with, you need to envision how the bus is going to be used.

If the bus is going to be used every day or has long runs that it does multiple times per day, you will be adding significant mileage to the bus. In this case, you might want to consider upgrading to a diesel engine, which costs more but has a longer life cycle than a gas engine. If your church is only running on Sunday and maybe one other time per week locally, a gas engine would be recommended. 

Capacity needs will determine which chassis fits your needs best. In general, anything from 0-25 passengers will lead you to a Ford or Chevrolet chassis. Capacity needs over 25 will require you to upgrade to a Freightliner, International, or Ford 550/650 chassis.

You will also become overwhelmed with how many church bus manufacturers are in the marketplace. We feel strongly that safety should come first. It is our opinion that steel or aluminum walls with full steel cage are the safest construction available and should be strongly considered as part of your requirement.

Keep in mind buses are like cars…all are not created equal and you pay for what you get. Most dealers are honest and will advise on the reputation of each bus, but it is always advised to get a second opinion and talk to like-minded churches to get their input on quality and experience of different bus manufacturers.

2. What sort of routine maintenance should I expect after I purchase a bus? 
Great question. Buses are like any other mechanical machine; preventative maintenance is critical in maximizing the vehicle life cycle. Chassis-related items should be the highest priority and include regular oil changes and maintaining all other chassis-related fluids. 

Body maintenance should include changing air conditioning filters regularly, inspect coolant levels and flush/refill if coolant fails gravity test. Check tire pressure and uneven wear on tires; rotate accordingly. Inspect and lube door latches/seals/hinges/header. The bus should also be washed a minimum of four times a year; mold has a tendency to grow in the seams and expand increasing the probability or water intrusion. For the ambitious, you can take preventative measures by using self leveling based sealers on the seams of the roof to prevent water intrusion.

3. What is the difference between a van and a bus?
As transportation has evolved over the last two decades, the need for safe and reliable transportation to and from public schools, churches, daycares and similar facilities has become one of public scrutiny. Please review some of the key differences:

* Many insurers are willing to lower your premiums when switching to a bus because of lower liability.
* Vans were designed to carry cargo, not people.
* Vans do not comply with many of the basic safety requirements that apply to passenger cars or the stricter federal requirements that apply to school buses or other types of buses.
* Buses come equipped with dual rear wheels. Vans do not.
* The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states “Pre-primary, primary and secondary schools should not use 15-passenger vans for transporting school children, as they do not provide the same level of safety as school buses.”
* NHTSA also states, “It is also against federal law for schools to buy new 15-passenger vans for school transportation purposes.” 

The information provided is not meant to be viewed negatively. Vehicle purchases from churches require sometimes years of planning and being informed about the safety aspects of vehicles is a responsibility in discussing options.

4. What are your most recommended options churches should consider?
One thing that is constant in the bus business is every customer or church has its own unique needs, so there is no right or wrong option on a bus. It comes down to what options will fit your needs and your budget. In saying that, some of the more popular options that we have seen recently include:

* Dedicated rear luggage
* Audio visual packages
* Grab handles at head rests
* LED exterior lights (Some manufacturers have this as a standard feature.)
* Video reversing systems
* Black paint around the windows
* High idle to boost air conditioning
* A level 3/4/5 seat fabric to give your bus distinction
* Overhead luggage

Jason Smith currently serves as vice president of National Bus Sales. He has served in a sales capacity and currently manages the operations, marketing and shares in the business development side of National Bus Sales, www.nationalbussales.com.

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